1. Turkey hunters need to change with the times.
Wild Turkey numbers today are at an all-time high; hunters across America have a great opportunity to enjoy this highly assessable, wonderful renewable resource. High turkeys densities mean more hens to compete for gobblers, Turkey hunter numbers are at all-time highs, yes, additional competition for gobblers.
Turkey hunting has changed dramatically in the last 20 years; hunters must change and adjust their hunting style to keep up with the times. Wild turkeys change their habits according to conditions in their environment and what I call “hunter pressure.” I would like to share a few tips that helped me bag wild turkey all across America.
2. Locating Turkeys
Listening for gobblers prior to season in your hunting area is essential for success. However, do not just listen from a distance. Stay a while, follow turkeys, and in open country, watch the turkeys. Where do they go from the roost? Where are they gobbling later in the morning? Locate the areas gobblers use throughout the day. I use my turkey call to get gobbler counts in an area; turkeys respond better to a turkey call than a owl or crow locator-type call. When hunting a new area, learn the lay of the land as quickly as possible. Review "topo” maps of the area, watch, listen and learn from the turkeys. Adjust your tactics dependent on what turkeys are doing and the cycle or seasonality they are in during the time of your hunt.
For successful outdoor television and outdoor writer hunts, roosting is my greatest key to success and a finished TV show. Locating numerous gobblers in your hunting area prior to season is a must, but roosting the night before your hunt puts birds in the bag. I want to know what limb he is on, direction of fly-up and find my set-up the night before my hunt.
4. Pressure shy
With both wild turkey and hunter numbers at an all-time high, a higher turkey and hunter density also represents more hens and hunter competition or gobblers, So today’s hunters must change and adjust their hunting style and tactics to bag today’s “henned up” or “pressured gobblers.”
Wild turkeys change their habits according to conditions in their environment and what I call hunter pressure. Turkeys that many label as “call shy” I prefer to call as “people shy” or “pressure shy.” Calling, a sound, a turkey vocalization, has absolutely no negative effect on turkeys. Wild turkeys do not like human activity; heavy hunter traffic will shut down gobbling and cause Toms to change their normal routine, not your calling. Minimize activity in the area you hunt before, during and after the hunt. Scout and watch birds from a distance, and, if possible, let an area rest after hunting. Walk in to hunt, leave trucks parked at the road.
5. The hen factor
Hens dictate toms' movement, especially in areas with high turkey densities. Find the food source, find the hens and you will find the gobblers. With a gobbler on the roost with hens, get in early and set up tight, as close as possible. Be the first hen in the morning and call aggressive like a dominant hen. Get that gobbler in and on the ground before all the hens are off the roost. When hunting later in the morning, don’t call to the gobbler, call the hens by challenging them with cutting and yelping and the tom will follow.
6. The final approach
Your set-up can be the difference in just spending quality time in the outdoors or carrying a gobbler to your truck. Set up as close as the terrain will allow—the tighter the better. With today’s higher turkey densities, hunters have to contend with hen competition. You have to set up tight to compete with the hens. Use the terrain to your advantage. In timber set up where you can’t see the gobbler until he is in range, like the break of a ridge or a turn in a logging road and always set up to make it easier for the turkey to come to you. Always set up on a roosted gobbler on the same side he flew up from the night before. Watch where turkeys enter and leave fields when hunting open country. Adjust your set-up to be slightly inside those woods between his roost and field edge, where you can shoot both woods and field. Place decoys just inside field edge.
A turkey call is my most important tool for success; I use my call for locating, roosting and calling spring gobblers to the gun. Keep it simple. Yelping and cutting is all that is necessary to call and kill spring turkeys anywhere in America. Practice calling prior to season; learn to properly use a variety of calling devices. Never be afraid to call. Put feeling and inflection in your calling. Listen and watch turkeys; they will tell you how to hunt and call them. Practice with several types of calling devices, I use a H.S. Strut 2.5 diaphragm mouth call, H.S. glass or slate and box call during each and every hunt.
8. Guns and loads
Today’s turkey hunter has a multitude of choices of ammunition, shot sizes, turkey guns and turkey chokes. It is imperative to match shot size, choke tube and turkey gun to type of terrain you're hunting. In thick woods and ridge country like the Ozarks, close encounters are usually the norm. Many shots taken are less than 20 yards and many times just 20 feet. A standard full or modified choke is best, as well as smaller shot size like 6's, for close-range pattern density. Actually, in the old days I killed many gobblers in close quarter hand to hand combat with high brass 7½ shot.
In semi-open country, wood lots mixed with open areas and small fields, a tighter choke like the H.S. Undertaker and #5 shot is very efficient. In open country, like north Missouri or western states' open spaces, a much tighter choke and #4 shot is the ticket with a tighter pattern and shot energy at longer distance with heavier shot.
A hunter should take the time long before the season to shoot numerous shot sizes, brands of ammo, and different choke tubes to find what works best with their turkey gun. Always start patterning close, like 10 yards on a big board, shoot light loads to see where gun is hitting, then go to turkey loads once tuned in. In addition, hunters only handle turkey guns once or twice a year, so to become familiar with your gun, shoot hand thrown clay birds with light loads.
9. Over thinking game
Turkey hunting is a mind game. Never underestimate the power of your own mental state. Be flexible, and get sufficient rest. Hunt aggressively and creatively, but do not over think or over evaluate hunting situations.
Too many hunters bestow turkeys with human traits, all while turkey are out there just being turkeys. If you’re afraid to call or if you think you scare a gobbler with your calling, you probably will not call in many turkeys. Use tactics that work best for you, but never be afraid to change tactics and try something different. Adjust to what the turkeys are doing at the time you are hunting them. Don’t ever buy into any negative talk and/or lowered expectations expressed among a group of hunters in the area you're hunting. Positive thinking kills turkeys!
10. Pecking order
Every turkey has their place in the social structure. For gobblers, I utilize the gobbler yelp. I challenge a gobbler’s status within the pecking order. I call in and kill more turkeys with gobbler yelping than any other call. A challenged dominant gobbler will charge your position to run you off, to whip you—but he doesn’t know you have a 12-gauge. Just like a gobbler to bring spurs to a gun fight!